5/28/24

Frame of Mind: "The Scapegoat" (1970) by Christianna Brand

Christianna Brand's "The Scapegoat" originally appeared in the August, 1970, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and the then editor-in-chief, Frederic Dannay, called Brand's late-period short stories and novellas renaissance detective fiction – half a century before renaissance detective fiction became a thing. But not everyone agrees. Jim, of The Invisible Event, discussed "The Scapegoat" in his review of Brand's short story collection A Buffet for Unwelcome Guests (1983) summed up his opinion about this story as follows, "hoover up every single word of this, and then vow never to repeat its abominations upon the world." So my take is going to be a game of gem or sham, on difficulty mode, because it's Brand story with Jim's opinion likely tipping the odds even further in her favor. Let's find out!

"The Scapegoat" is a combination of armchair detection and parlor psychology, which examines a fifteen year old, unsolved murder case haunting the son of a policeman.

Fifteen years previously, the crippled magician Mr. Mysterioso had been invited to place the cornerstone of the new wing of the local hospital and the police is present to safeguard the magicians. Mysterioso had received a flurry of angry, abusive and anonymous letters evidently from the same person ("they were all signed 'Her Husband'"). The magician is helped by his loyal servant, Tom, going up the steps to the platform in front of the cornerstone when the crack of a rifle shot is heard. Mysterioso and a dying Tom fall the ground. And, as Tom died in his arms, the magician defiantly roared at the building opposite, "you fools, you murderers, you've got the wrong man." A great, dramatic opening scene to an unsolved drama that continues to haunt the son of the policeman who was dismissed for negligence on duty.

In one of the top floor windows of the building, the police find a rifle propped up, "its sights aligned on the cornerstone," with one spent bullet and "nobody there." Up on the roof, directly above the window, a press photographer was making pictures of the charity event, but couldn't have come down as the police locked the door behind him for security reasons and down at the main entrance P.C. Robbins stood guard – seen by a dozen witnesses "tearing up the stairs toward the murder room." The large, open and easily searched building is searched from top to bottom without finding the assassin. So the young police constable is dismissed and that not only destroyed him, but is terribly close to destroying his son who believes his father didn't neglect his duty. And was unfairly dismissed. He also believes the press photographer, "Mr. Photoze," is the real killer and "wanted to be avenged on Mr. Photoze who had committed a crime and got off scot-free."

Mysterioso organizes a domestic court "to talk it all over, to try to excise the scar that had formed in the mind of the young man whose father had been dismissed from the force." Robbins is to represent his father, Mr. Photoze is in the dock with him to defend himself and Inspector Block ("who as a young constable had been on the scene of the crime") presents the evidence of the police. Mysterioso presides as judge and several witnesses from fifteen years ago serve as jury. Old Baily at Home.

If you know your classical detective fiction, the situation surrounding the shooting and murder of the magician's servant is open to multiple interpretations and false-solutions. Brand even goes so far as ending the story with a double-twist. So all good and fine, on paper, but Jim has a point that the story "feels like Brand consciously writing A Christianna Brand Story." Brand was going back to the well and the result certainly is not one of her best (locked room) mystery stories, however, calling it an abomination is putting it on a little thick. The problem with "The Scapegoat" is that it's simultaneously too long and not long enough. Brand came up with an ambitious premise and idea for a first-class detective story, but everything from the impossible shooting, the multiple interpretations and the characters themselves to the double-twist ending needed more room to develop in order to be truly convincing and effective – which it simply wasn't. Strangely enough, in spite of its short length, "The Scapegoat" feels like it was too long and dragged out in parts. So not at all a good or efficient use of the short story format, which came at the cost of the plotting-and storytelling clarity characterizing Brand's best work.

Something better could have been done with "The Scapegoat." Maybe it could have been trimmed down or expanded into a novel, but this just isn't it. It's still an ok-ish detective story, but, when measured against the standards of Brand's earlier work, it suddenly looks very mediocre.

Sorry for having to end this trio of Brand reviews on a sour note, but genuinely expected to find a really good impossible crime story in "The Scapegoat." I mean, what are the odds of Jim actually not being that far off the mark? It looked like a safe bet!

5/24/24

Shadowed Sunlight (1945) by Christianna Brand

Last time, I discussed Christianna Brand's Death in High Heels (1941), very much an apprentice work full with undeveloped potential and promise, but for a detective story from the forties, it has aged remarkably well – closer a police procedural from the 1980s or '90s than a Golden Age mystery. So even when she's not pulling a Carr or Christie, Brand's can deliver a detective story not devoid of merit of interest. However, it didn't quite scratch that itch and decided to go right back to Brand. And with good reason.

I rambled on about lost manuscripts and other extraordinarily obscure detective fiction not so long ago, but what I neglected to mention in those laments is that efforts are being made to salvage what has been lost. In the past, I recounted Philip Harbottle's Herculean labors to restore the works of John Russell Fearn and Gerald Verner to print, which include some superb, previously unpublished, novels (e.g. Fearn's Pattern of Murder, 2006). Three years ago, the British Library published E.C.R. Lorac's Two-Way Murder (c. 1958), originally written shortly before she died, but not published until 2021. Then there's Tony Medawar's Bodies from the Library anthology series dedicated to "bring into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown" from the Golden Age of Detection.

An annual series collecting obscure, rarely reprinted short stories, previously unpublished work and even plays from a who's who of classic mystery writers – covering both American and British writers. So you get rare or unpublished stories from the likes of Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Boucher and Clayton Rawson. The Bodies from the Library series has proven to be a small treasure trove of previous unpublished work for fans of Christianna Brand. A big regret of her fans is that "she didn't write enough," but "new" material has been added in recent years to Brand's bibliography.

"Cyanide in the Sun" (1958) and "Bank Holiday Murder" (19??) had not been reprinted since their original appearance in The Daily Sketch ("a British newspaper which folded fifty years ago"), but respectively reprinted in The Realm of the Impossible (2017) and the Sept/Oct, 2017, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The never before published "The Rum Punch" appeared in the first Bodies from the Library (2018) anthology ("the highlight of the collection and an impossible mystery at that") and Bodies from the Library 4 (2021) contains an entire, long overlooked and nearly forgotten (short-ish) novel! There's still that planned Crippen & Landru collection (The Dead Hold Fast and Other Stories) and the unpublished impossible crime novel The Chinese Puzzle. Someone, like James Scott Byrnside, could complete the unfinished Cat Among the Pigeons. Anyway...

The subject of today's review is Shadowed Sunlight, originally serialized in Woman from July to August 1945, but was somehow forgotten about until it returned to print in Bodies from the Libraries 4. I don't remember ever hearing or reading about Shadowed Sunlight, before it was finally reprinted a few years ago. I was aware the unpublished The Chinese Puzzle and "The Dead Hold Fast," but never noticed even the briefest of mentions of this small, typical Brandian gem completely with a tight-drawn cast of characters and a seemingly impossible murder – only Cockrill and Charlesworth are absent. More on that in a moment.

Shadowed Sunlight takes place as the Second World War came to an end and "it was 'Britain is Grateful Week' for returning heroes," which means charity events to collect donations, war bonds and to welcome back the boys. Edgar "Thom-Thom" Thom is a successful ex-businessman who had his retirement cut short by the war to serve his country, as Director of Anthracite Production, but now intends to combine charity work with pleasure. Thom has taken his beloved racing cutter Cariad out of storage to "give those kids up at the naval school a run for their money" and to collect some money for the savings campaign. So brings together a small group of friends and young people to celebrate and enjoy the sailing.

Firstly, there's Gloria and her second husband, Geoffrey Winson, and their 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who's simply called "Tiggy." Jenny Sendall is Gloria's 19-year-old daughter from her first marriage. She brought along her boyfriend, Roy Silver, who's the "Silver Voice of Radio." Tiggy is looked after by the overworked, underpaid nursemaid, Miss Pye. She's not always on the best of term with her employers. Truda Dean and her boyfriend, Julian Messenger, get invited on their way to Trudy's grandmother, Lady Audian, to tell her of their intention to get married. Lastly, there's Thom's personal secretary, Evan Stone, who helped to arrange the boating party. But then things begin to get awkward really fast.

Julian Messenger used to be engaged to Jenny Sendall, but, when returning home from war, Julian asked Jenny to release him from his promise to marry her – because he wanted to marry Trudy. Jenny agreed to his request, "she was awfully sweet and nice about breaking off our engagement," but not her cash-strapped parents. Gloria and Geoffrey learn about this right before a day before the boating party. So they force her to promise to take action against Julian for breach of promise. Things don't end there. A day before the race, the group attends Miss Templeton's dance party ending with the mysterious theft of their host's emerald pendant in platinum setting. An ill-omen, indeed, but nothing compared to what awaits them the next day.

Midday, the next day, they have a picnic aboard, "just a rough, homely picnic," where everyone handles, eats and drinks the same things, but only one of them dies from cyanide poisoning. Somehow, or other, the murderer had poisoned something the victim ate or drink, mere minutes before, which appears to be an utter impossibility. Nobody could have administered the poison. An impossible poisoning aboard a racing yacht with a small, intimate circle of potential suspects.

I mentioned in the review of Death in High Heels that the book ends with Charlesworth getting assigned to a new case, "a murder in a racing yacht," wondering whether it could be the story told in the so far unpublished novella The Dead Hold Fast. Well, Shadowed Sunlight certainly ticks the murder-in-a-racing-yacht box, but Charlesworth is not the one who Scotland Yard sends to clear up the murder. Detective Inspector Dickinson, "a university pup with very little experience," because "a straightforward poisoning in a yacht, where, of necessity, the suspects must be few and the solution merely a matter of motive and opportunity, had seemed, to the simple hearts of his superiors, a cinch" – putting him on his first solo case. However, the murder proves far from straightforward from the apparent impossibility of administrating the poison, a mass drugging on the previous evening and stolen poison to the theft of the emerald and the death of Gloria's first husband. All tied up in a complicated tangle of relationships, emotions and possible motives with Tiggy both helping and hampering Dickinson's investigation. I agree with Jim when he said Tiggy can be added "alongside the Carstairs clan to the pantheon of Perfectly Realised Young People in GAD fiction." The characters, their interactions and complicated relationships really is the story's strong point.

Shadowed Sunlight is very much a character-driven mystery novel in the tradition of the Golden Age Crime Queen with twisty, psychological touches rather than a John Dickson Carr-style impossible crime tale. Brand's skillful hand at measuring out emotions is on full display, which she always beautifully balanced and seldom done in shades of a single color. For example (Minor SPOILERS/ROT13), gur Jvafbaf ner gehyl n cnve bs ercryyrag punenpgref, ohg Gvttl frrvat ure sngure nyy bs n fhqqra qvr sebz cbvfbavat naq pelvat bhg (“qnqql, jnxr hc, jnxr hc—!”) znxrf vg ernyyl harnfl gb purre fbzrbar ba jub, ol gur raq, vf cebira gb or bar bs gubfr qrfreivat ivpgvzf bs qrgrpgvir svpgvba. Be gur jrqtr bs fhfcvpvba guerngravat gb qevir n, huz, jrqtr orgjrra Whyvna naq Gehql.

Brand wasn't half-bad when it came to creating an engaging set of characters and knew how to insert genuine drama or an emotional monkey into a detective story without turning it into a cheap, gaudy melodrama. She often knew how to exploit it to deliver an emotional gut punch ending that made genre classics out of so many of her novels. Shadowed Sunlight certainly has a somewhat mixed ending, where the fates of the characters are concerned and you can't help feeling a little sorry for the murderer, but not the wrenching conclusion of a Green for Danger (1944) or London Particular (1952). However, it would be a unfair to hold this shorter, originally serialized and character-driven, novel up against those towering examples of Golden Age ingenuity and plotting. Brand evidently intended Shadowed Sunlight to be on a lighter note than something like Green for Danger and is to Brand's work what Peril at End House (1932) is to Christie. An excellent detective novel in its own right, but one that will always be overshadowed by its author's even better and more popular works.

So what about the actual meat of the plot? And, more specifically, the impossible poisoning? The plot is lighter and more character-oriented than Brand's other novels, but, on a whole, not bad with the only disappointing plot-thread being the stolen emerald pendant. I figured that part out pretty quickly and not up to Brand usual standards, but everything else was simply solid. Particularly the neat poisoning-trick that explained the impossible murder. I have come to associate this kind of impossible poisoning and solution with Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed series, which often feature similar impossibly poisoned food/drink in public/open places. So coming across one every now and then in a Golden Age detective story only adds interest. If there's anything to complain about is that Shadowed Sunlight was reprinted as part of an anthology instead of published as a separate novel. It would need a lengthy introduction, bibliography and extra short story ("Cyanide in the Sun") to pad out the page-count, but a “new” Brand novel deserves nothing less, especially when it's as good as Shadowed Sunlight.

Cutting this long, rambling and quasi-coherent shitty scribbling short, I really, really enjoyed Shadowed Sunlight. It was exactly what I was hoping to find when I picked up Death in High Heels: a lighter-plotted, but still unmistakably, Brandian detective story. While the story nor characters and plot soared to the same heights as Green for Danger or London Particular, it's restoration to print is cause for celebration. The fulfillment of a seemingly impossible wish of seeing Brand's all-too-small body of work miraculously expand. I suspect James got hold of a Monkey's Paw. Next up is probably going to be a review of one of Brand's short stories to complete the hat trick.

5/21/24

Death in High Heels (1941) by Christianna Brand

Last month, I revisited Christianna Brand's pièce de résistance, Green for Danger (1944), which is set in a World War II hospital under cover of the Blitz and considered not only to be her crowning achievement, but one of the dozen best Golden Age detective novels – a five-star whodunit genuinely worthy of Agatha Christie. Green for Danger more than stood up to a second reading and wanted to return to Brand sooner rather than later. I considered taking another look at Heads, You Lose (1941), Death of Jezebel (1948) or London Particular (1952), but opted for one of the titles on the to-be-read pile. There were still some interesting titles left to pick, Cat and Mouse (1950) or The Rose in Darkness (1979), but decided to go with Brand's debut novel.

Death in High Heels (1941) takes place in a posh dress shop, Christophe et Cie, where we find the small, tightly-drawn cast of characters comprising of a dozen women and two men.

The two men are Frank Bevan, proprietor and manager, and his dress designer, Mr. Cecil. Miss Gregory and Miss Doon act as Bevan's right and left hand in running the dress shop with "Macaroni" ("so christened for reasons obscure enough in the beginning but now lost in the mists of time") doing secretarial duties for Miss Doon. Mrs. Irene Best, Mrs. Rachel Gay and Mrs. Victoria David were the sales staff at Christophe et Cie, while the two mannequins Miss Carol and Miss Wheeler "just walk around in the models and show the customers what they are going to look like in the dresses" – "perhaps." Lastly, Mrs. 'Arris, the charlady. If you know your Brand, you know there's a cat among the pigeons who's about to strike. Even though the opening chapters show little more than the daily routine with its petty work floor rivalries and romances. Only thing somewhat outside the daily routine is Rachel and Victoria dashing off to the chemist for oxalic acid to clean a straw hat, which ends up all over the shop. Miss Doon dies that night in hospital from the effects of corrosive poisoning, but was it an accident, suicide or perhaps an opportunistic murder?

Suspecting "something fishy" about Miss Doon's death, Inspector Charlesworth and Sergeant Bedd are dispatched to the dress shop to sort it out. Charlesworth is able to rule out an accident or suicide, boiling the list of potential suspects down to the people in the dress shop and "gone a long way towards establishing motives." However, the investigation eventually grinds to a halt and Charlesworth's superior decides to assign his long-time rival, Inspector Smithers, as a co-investigator to help him out ("...unaware of the mutual detestation between these young men"). That's not only complication as there's a second poisoning attempt, a hunt for a potential trunk murderer and Charlesworth falling in love with one of his primary suspects.

Death in High Heels possesses nearly all the ingredients of a classic Brand mystery, except for Inspector Cockrill and some kind of impossible crime, but the book is very much an apprentice work – similar to Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1916/20). They're promising first stabs bubbling with promise and playing with certain ideas that would be worked out and take on more definite shapes in their later works. Same holds true for Death in High Heels and particularly in the way she draws a small, tightly-knit cast of characters, but in every other way it's an a-typical Brand novel showing she had not found her footing in her first novel. Most notably, the ending lacks that emotional gut punch characterizing so many of best detective novels like Green for Danger and London Particular. One of Brand's many strengths as both a writer and plotter is that she knew how to effectively end a story. Something she would not get a hang of until several years later with her superb WWII whodunit, which proved to be the first in a string of Golden Age classics.

While her apprentice detective novel is a sound, competently plotted affair with a well-realized setting, Death in High Heels is obviously not one of Brand's greatest triumphs. It simply doesn't measure up to Brand's later work. That being said, Death in High Heels has a quality all of its own that makes it stand out even as one of Brand's lesser novels.

Death in High Heels reads like a British police procedural published in the 1980s or '90s instead of a Golden Age detective story from the '40s. On the GADWiki, Curt Evans notes "the dumb stereotype of British Golden mystery certainly is belied by Brand's first novel" with its "light badinage about sex" ("the ladies are breezily and pleasantly irreverent on this subject") and the gay Mr. Cecil – whose missing boyfriend is one of the story's subplots. Another interesting scene, for the time, is when Brand's shows one of the woman going through an ugly divorce with a child caught in the middle ("...he was unkind and unfriendly to Mummy so he couldn't be your Daddy any more") or Charlesworth going to the morgue to look over the sewed up corpse of Miss Doon. Not to mention Charlesworth being everything but your typical Golden Age detective. Smart and competent enough, but no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, who's prone to falling in love at the drop of a dime ("Mr. Charlesworth's susceptible heart did three somersaults and landed at Victoria's feet") and a big fan of himself. And that can make him a bit of a dick at times. So more in line with the imperfect characters of the modern police procedural than the Great Detectives who were still around in the '40s.

All done very openly without an attempt to doll it all up and make it presentable to a 1940s audience, which must have raised some eyebrows at the time. A daring approach for the time and Brand returned to her own period in succeeding novels, which adhered more to conventions of the time (e.g. Suddenly at His Residence, 1946). Like she remembered it was 1941, not 1981 or 1991, which is why she wisely relegated Charlesworth to the ranks of secondary/supporting character in favor of Inspector Cockrill. A much better series-character to carry her novels and short stories.

So, while Death on High Heels is far from Brand's best detective novel, it has aged remarkably well to the point where it feels like it was published only thirty, forty years ago – instead of more than eighty years. It speaks volumes how good Brand really was when even her weakest detective novel has something to make it noteworthy simply as Golden Age mystery. She truly was one of the very best!

On a final, somewhat related note: Death in High Heels ends with Charlesworth getting assigned to a new case, "a murder in a racing yacht" ("...sounds rich and glamorous, sir"), which just might possibly be the case told in the unpublished Charlesworth novella The Dead Hold Fast. I'm still waiting for The Dead Hold Fast and Other Stories, C&L!

5/17/24

The Hit List: Top 10 Best Translations & Reprints from Locked Room International

The last time I compiled a list, "The Hit List: Top 5 Intriguing Pieces of Impossible Crime Fiction That Vanished into Thin Air," I concluded the list with the promise to pick a slightly less depressing, more upbeat topic for the next hit list – instead of continuing to dwell on the obscure and lost. A fun, upbeat topic occurred to me right after finishing it, but decided to save it for another month, or so, to pad out the summer months. Not some backdoor excuse to ride my old hobby horse again. But then the news broke that John Pugmire had passed away.

Martin Edwards shared the news on his blog and said of Pugmire, "he was a great fan of the Golden Age and since the death of Bob Adey nobody has done more than John to advance the cause of the locked room mysteries." That's an understatement!

I wrote in "The Locked Room Mystery & Impossible Crime Story in the 21st Century" how Pugmire and Locked Room International were instrumental in bringing the current impossible crime revival about. Pugmire's translation of Paul Halter's La nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf, 2000), published in 2006, is what Soji Shimada would call an epoch-making event that helped to finally lift the Western locked room mystery out of its post-John Dickson Carr rut. It lead to the creation of LRI that brought the fabled Paul Halter to an international audience and helped to popularize translations of non-English detective novels and short stories. A still largely untapped reservoir of excellent, Golden Age-style detective fiction often ignored in the past as it was deemed inaccessible and publishers back then were not always keen on taking chances on translations – exemplified by "99 Novels for a Locked Room Library." A then eye-and mouthwatering list of mostly untranslated or scarce, out-of-print and completely out-of-reach impossible crime novels posted on MysteryFile back in 2007. You only have to look at some recent lists of favorite locked room mysteries to see how much has changed since 2007. Pugmire fittingly played a key role in making what looked like an impossibility in 2007 possible only a decade later. A genuine locked room revival!

I decided to do a hit list with a selection of the ten best, arguably most important books Pugmire translated or reprinted between Halter's Le roi du désordre (The Lord of Misrule, 1996) in 2010 and Le cri de la siréne (The Siren's Call, 1998) in 2023. A short, thirteen year period that left an indelible mark on the genre and particularly the locked room mystery. A legacy to be proud of.

 

1. La maison interdite (The Forbidden House, 1932) by Michel Herbert & Eugéne Wyl

Pugmire not only championed and translated Halter's novels, but translated a dozen other classic and modern French locked room mysteries from the likes of Gaston Boca, Marcel Lanteaume and Jean-Paul Török – including a GAD masterpiece from Messieurs Herbert and Wyl. The Forbidden House is a first-rate impossible crime novel recalling some well-known English detective novels, but Herbert and Wyl's little gem predates them by three, four years. Simply one of the best towering over most French mysteries from the 1930s and '40s.

 

2. La bête hurlante (The Howling Beast, 1934) by Noël Vindry

A close second, when it comes to French mysteries translated by Pugmire, is Vindry's The Howling Beast. A strange novel in which M. Allou listens to the story of a man on the run from the police, Pierre Henry, who relates his ungodly adventure at a fourteenth century castle – culminating with a double murder which only he could have committed. M. Allou is a fine armchair detective as he pieces everything together while listening to this unusual tale of howling beasts and impossible murders within the walls of an old castle.

 

3. Jukkakukan no satsujin (The Decagon House Murders, 1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji

The Decagon House Murders is not only one of the best modern, or shin honkaku, mysteries published by LRI, but one of its most important titles. It's original publication in Japan officially signaled the beginning of the shin honkaku movement, which is still going strong nearly forty years later. Someone once said, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." The publication of the English translation of The Decagon House Murders signaled the beginning of the translation wave, which directly influenced new talents like James Scott Byrnside, A. Carver and Jim Noy. On top of being an excellent detective novel and plan to revisit it one of these days.

 

4. Koto pazuru (The Moai Island Puzzle, 1989) by Alice Arisugawa

Another one I need to revisit some time in the future, but remember it as an excellent detective novel and not merely as a locked room mystery. It's a great detective novel in how neatly Arisugawa managed to put everything together in the final chapter, which is what makes this "isolated island" mystery a fan favorite. And these were only the first notable novels from the early years of shin honkaku! Only frustrating part is that no further translations of novels or short stories have materialized since LRI published The Moai Island Puzzle in 2016.

 

5. Locked Room Murders: Second Edition, Revised (1991) by Robert Adey

This bibliography is the most referenced book on this blog and securing a copy used to be like trying to find the Holy Grail, but Pugmire finally reprinted it in 2018 and surprised everyone by winning the inaugural Reprint of the Year Award – snatching the award from E.R.C. Lorac's Bats in the Belfry (1937). The following year, LRI published Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders: Supplement (2019) expending the second edition with over 1150 additional entries that "identify novels, short stories, TV shows, movies and other media with puzzling impossibilities." It goes without saying these are as important to locked room fans as the translations as those once out-of-reach impossible crimes from France, Japan and Italy.

 

6. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) by Paul Halter

Pugmire translated and championed French mystery and locked room artisan, Paul Halter, who used to be something of cryptid like Big Foot or Nessy. You heard or read about him from time to time, but always from secondhand accounts. For example, Pugmire wrote a MysteryFile article in 2005, "Paul Halter, A Master of Locked Rooms," which made many a fan salivate for translations. Since then, nineteen of Halter's novels have been translated into English in addition to two short story collections. Just picking one, or two, titles for this list proved to be a bit of a challenge. I was tempted to go with the funny choice, Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996), but decided to go with one of Halter's best. La ruelle fantôme (The Phantom Passage, 2005) has a fantastic premise of a dark, obscure passageway, Kraken Street, that keeps appearing just as mysteriously as it disappears again. Halter delivered an explanation that neither disappointed nor diminished its wonderful premise and setup.

 

7. The Derek Smith Omnibus (2014) by Derek Smith

This omnibus brings together Derek Smith's classic impossible crime novel Whistle Up the Devil (1954), the ultra rare Come to Paddington Fair (1997) and two previously unpublished works – Model for Murder (1952) and the short story "The Imperfect Crime." So a literal treasure trove for locked room fans when it was first published containing everything from Smith's famous, long out-of-print and rare classics to previously unpublished material. Not bad material either. So, in one stroke, LRI ended Smith's spell in total obscurity and wish the omnibus format was used more often for writers a relatively small output. Value for your money!

 

8. Shijinso no satsujin (Death Among the Undead, 2017) by Masahiro Imamura

Published thirty years after The Decagon House Murders, Imamura's Death Among the Undead and MORI Hiroshi's Subete ga F ni naru (The Perfect Insider, 1996) give Western readers a glimpse of how the Japanese detective story has evolved since the days of Shimada and Ayatsuji. In this case, Imamura admirably succeeded in fusing the strictly logical with the utterly fantastical by taking the tried-and-true closed circle situation and infusing it with zombies. However, Death Among the Undead is not just a zombie survival story with locked room puzzles, because the zombies with their abilities and limitations play a key role in the plot. It created something very special and unique brimming with new ideas as the Japanese have begun to probe the realm of the hybrid mystery.

 

9. The Realm of the Impossible (2017) edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin

I consider this anthology to be the flagship publication of LRI. A 430 page anthology of twenty-six short stories, collected from twenty different countries, of the impossible crime variety. Some of the highlights of this anthology include Rintaro Norizuki's "Midori no tobira wa kiken" ("The Lure of the Green Door," 1991) and Szu-Yen Lin's "The Miracle on Christas Eve" (2016?) with a dozen short anecdotes of real-life impossibilities peppered throughout the book. A treat for fans and the best, certainly most original, locked room-themed anthologies published to date.

 

10. Le montre en or (The Gold Watch, 2019) by Paul Halter

Paul Halter was the backbone of the LRI catalog, a flagship author, who wrote this time twisting tour-de-force only a five years ago and it didn't originally appear in French – giving the scoop to Pugmire and LRI. What a scoop! Halter wrote a devilishly intricate historical mystery with a plot stretching across the previous century, taking place in 1911 and 1991, which intertwines two different narratives full with impossible crimes and the hunt for a long-lost film. I believe The Gold Watch is going to be viewed in the coming years and decades as one of the first classics produced during the early stages of the locked room revival.

 

I could easily extend this list or swap out half a dozen entries for other titles meriting inclusion from Szu-Yen Lin's Death in the House of Rain (2006) and Tokuya Higashigawa's first novel in the Ikagawa City series to the selection of French Golden Age mysteries and the short story collections. So, to cut a long story short, Pugmire left an indelible mark on the locked room mystery, helped to popularize translations and as a result revitalized and pushed it on an entirely new course. That's quite a legacy to leave behind. R.I.P.

5/13/24

Dr. Morelle Investigates (2009) by Ernest Dudley

Vivian Ernest Coltman-Allen, known better under his adopted stage-and penname of "Ernest Dudley," was an English actor, dramatist and mystery writer who created the popular BBC weekly radio series The Armchair Detective – reviewing "the best of the current releases of detective novels, dramatising a chapter from each." The program reviewed John Russell Fearn's One Remained Seated (1946) and that attracted the attention of Fearn's agent-biographer-champion Philip Harbottle some fifty years later. Harbottle became Dudley's friend and agent, which is why Dudley's otherwise obscure detective fiction is still in print today. Harbottle has worked decades to ensure the writers under his care, like John Russell Fearn, Gerald Verner and Ernest Dudley, remain in print.

Dr. Morelle Investigates (2009) collects two long-ish short story adaptations of a radio and stage play, "Locked Room Murder" (1954) and "Act of Violence" (1959), solved by the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Morelle ("he is also an expert on crime"). Dudley created Dr. Morelle for the BBC radio anthology series Monday Night at Eight and was a hit with the audience leading to a movie, TV series, stage play and a series of short stories and novels. So this two-story collection of a radio-and stage adaptation sounded like a potentially fun and interesting follow up to John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud's 13 to the Gallows (2008).

“Locked Room Murder” is an adaptation of a stage play, Doctor Morelle, Dudley co-wrote with the then Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, Arthur Watkyn.

The story begins one late Saturday evening when Brian Cartwright is visited by four friends, Philip, Nigel, June and Evelyn, who were involved in a drunken, fatal hit-and-run accident – learning from a radio broadcast the victim had died. So they turn to their friend in something of a jam, but Cartwright happen to be in desperate need of money and turns his hand to a spot of good, old-fashioned blackmail. Cartwright promises to keep his mouth shut in exchange for two-thousand pounds ("between the four of you that shouldn't be embarrassing"). A demand that doesn't go unchallenged as one of them sends Cartwright a death threat, but Cartwright turns the table on them by inviting them to dinner with three additional guests. The first is a journalist, Bill Guthrie, who was already interested to write about the history of the house for his "Criminal Corners of London" column ("some female was battered to death a hundred years ago where your pantry is now"). The last two are Dr. Morelle and his secretary, Miss Frayle.

Cartwright shows them the death threat ("We have till nine o'clock. So have you. R.I.P.") and calls their bluff in front of three witnesses. Either they agree to a simple transaction or he's going to police. Cartwright is going to wait until then in his study with the doors locked from the inside and the windows to the balcony securely bolted, but, when the clock strikes nine, they hear a gunshot from the locked study. Who killed Cartwright and how, when he was all alone with every entrance locked and bolted from the inside? Dr. Morelle takes charge of the case and solves the murder in exactly an hour, but is it any good? That's a bit of a mixed bag.

"Locked Room Murder" is not a very challenging, or fairly played, detective story with, what some would consider to be, a second-rate locked room-trick. There is, however, a pleasing cat-and-mouse atmosphere permeating throughout the story. You have a brazen blackmailer trying to get back at his victims when one of them threatens him anonymously, but the story also appeared to toy with its audience. The locked room-trick might not be the stuff of legends, neither was it overtly apparent from the start with the crime scene littered with "clues" all suggesting different possibilities. From the planned, short blackout as the electricity company changes over to a new grid system and Cartwright smoking a cigar in a pitch-black room to the old-fashioned telephone with separate mouthpiece and receiver bolted to his desk all suggested different possibilities. Even the money troubles and the victim's brazen behavior implied the dreaded suicide-disguised-as-murder was not off the table. Dr. Morelle struggled with spotting the locked room-trick as well and has to accept the murderer's challenge to find it before the hour is out or become the next victim of the devilish murder method.

So, while not one of the most ingenious detective stories ever conceived, "Locked Room Murder" nonetheless turned out to be a fun read with a minor, but pleasing, element of the unexpected.

The second short story, "Act of Violence," is an adaptation of a Dr. Morelle episode from Monday Night at Eight. Dr. Morelle and Miss Frayle are invited over to dinner by Professor Owen a day before he's going to marry his secretary, Mary Lloyd, who secretly loves his laboratory assistant, Glyn Evans. Along the way, Dr. Morelle and Miss Frayle pass a gas station run by a Robert Griffiths. Dr. Morelle recognizes him as the young man who was on trial and sentenced to hang for murder, but had been reprieved to begin life anew. There's a manuscript of a dramatic sketch, sent in anonymously to the local dramatic society, which reenacts the murder that almost hanged Griffiths ("...only a short sketch but it certainly packs a punch"). Griffiths is going to play his own part!

This sounds a little disjointed and Dudley takes his time to set everything up, while leaving the reader in the dark about the direction the story is eventually going to take, but the potential for a good detective story was there – depending on how the ending is going to pull everything together. And that's the problem. Dr. Morelle ties everything together, but the solution is not all that impressive and made the long preamble feel like stalling and padding out the story. Dudley should have focused either on the domestic story of the eternal triangle or gone with the theatrical storyline and the anonymous manuscript, because this didn't work.

So, thematically, Dr. Morelle Investigates makes for interesting comparison material to the stage plays by Carr and Gielgud, but should have read these two adaptations before, not after, 13 to the Gallows as Carr is a hard act to follow. At least "Locked Room Murder" was fun and entertaining.

5/9/24

13 to the Gallows (2008) by John Dickson Carr and Val Gielgud

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Douglas G. Green's founding of Crippen & Landru, a small publishing firm specialized in short story collections, whose first publication was John Dickson Carr's Speak of the Devil (1994) – a BBC radio serial originally written and broadcast in 1941. C&L was decades ahead of the curb and gave mystery fans a taste of the coming reprint renaissance with their "Lost Classic" series. A series of short story collections comprising of such early gems as Stuart Palmer's Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (2002), Craig Rice's Murder, Mystery and Malone (2002), Helen McCloy's The Pleasant Assassin (2003), Joseph Commings' Banner Deadlines (2004) and Ellery Queen's The Adventure of the Murdered Moths (2005). Not to mention Queen's previously unpublished novel collected in The Tragedy of Errors and Others (1999).

There are fortunately no signs C&L is slowing down or stopping anytime soon as Jeffrey Marks, "the award-winning author of biographies of Craig Rice and Anthony Boucher," took over from Douglas Greene as publisher in 2018.

In March, I reviewed one of their latest publications, Pierre Véry's Les veillées de la Tour Pointue (The Secret of the Pointed Tower, 1937). A collection of imaginative short mystery stories, translated from French by Tom Mead, published in 2023, but was unaware of the C&L's 30th anniversary and neglected to mention it when I wrote the review. It was not until a review of Edward D. Hoch's The Killer Everyone Knew and Other Captain Leopold Stories (2023) appeared on In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel that I was reminded of C&L's 30th anniversary. So a good excuse to finally move those Anthony Berkeley, William Brittain and Hoch collections to the top of the pile, but not before revisiting one of my favorite C&L collections from my all-time favorite mystery writer.

13 to the Gallows (2008) is a collection of four, never before published manuscripts of stage plays John Dickson Carr wrote during the early 1940s and collaborated on two of the plays with his friend and then Director of Drama at the BBC, Val Gielgud – who had a "shared interest in detective stories and fencing." Gielgud wrote detective novels himself and you would think the name of a British broadcast legend on the covers of Death at Broadcasting House (1934), Death as an Extra (1935) and The First Television Murder (1940) is a guarantee to keep them in circulation, but they have all been out-of-print for ages. This collection of stage plays is the first time his name appeared on a piece of detective fiction in over thirty years. What a way to make a comeback!

Just one more thing before delving into these plays. 13 to the Gallows is edited and introduced by Tony Medawar, a researcher and genre archaeologist, who also littered it with Van Dinean footnotes and even included "Notes for the Curious." Medawar's detailed introduction should give you an appreciation of the time and work that went into the making of this volume of "Lost Classics." One of the many fascinating background details is that it was "the late Derek Smith who first conceived of this collection." So with that out of the way, let's raise the curtain on this collection of stage plays from a once forgotten period of Carr's writing career.

The three-act play "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" (1942) is the first of two collaborations between Carr and Gielgud, which is also the first of two plays that take place in a BBC radio studio. In this case, it's the cellar below a country house on the outskirts of a provincial town that was taken over by the BBC as an emergency security set of studios. When the story begins, they're rehearing the first episode of a true crime program called Murderer's Row starring ex-Chief Inspector Silence to talk about the Kovar case. It was his first big case ("I hanged the criminal") in which Thomas Kovar shot his wife's lover. A part of the program is a dramatic reenactment of the shooting, but the producer, Anthony Barran, made the unfortunate call to cast Elliott Vandeleur and Lanyon Kelsey as the murderer and victim – because Kelsey is rumored to be involved with Vandeleur's wife, Jennifer Sloane. So all the ingredients for murder all there, cooped in a small radio studio, while an air-raid goes on over their heads outside.

One of them gets fatally shot during the on-air performance, but who pulled the trigger and perhaps more importantly how was it done? Silence is on hand to handle the case, until the police arrives, collects two .22s from the studio, but one "has never been fired" ("...barrel's unfouled") and "the other was full of blanks." So what happened to the murder gun? Silence turns the studio inside out and has everybody searched without finding as much as a shell casing. Nobody could have drawn or ditched a gun without being seen, but somebody, somehow, managed to pull it off. The impossibility of a shooting in a closed spaced by an apparently invisible killer and the puzzle of the vanishing gun are perfectly played out, which both have simple, elegant and yet satisfying solutions that simply works on stage. These impossibilities are dressed with the personal and backstage drama of the characters mirroring the old murder case and the running joke of Silence being frightened of microphones. Simply the kind of story fans of Carr and impossible crimes in general. However, "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" is not even the best play in this volume.

A note for the curious: Medawar noted in the afterword to the play that the impossible murder recalls one of Carr's short stories, "although the details of the mystery are entirely different," but I think Max Afford's The Dead Are Blind (1937) warrants a mention here. A locked room mystery staged inside a radio studio. You can also find similar impossible shootings with vastly different solutions in Stacey Bishop's Death in the Dark (1930) and Christopher Bush's The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935).

The second, three-act Carr-Gielgud collaboration, "Thirteen to the Gallows" (1944), is set this time in a Midlands school converted into a wartime emergency studio for the BBC. The program being produced is a spin-off episode, of sorts, of In Town Tonight entitled Out of Town – a series of special items split up between three towns in Britain. Barran from "Inspector Silence Takes the Air" returns to produce Barchester part of the program, but, during the rehearsals, slowly sees the whole thing disintegrating in front of his eyes. Even having to entertain the idea of interviewing a man who trains and imitates sea lions. Fortunately, the town has something of a notorious local celebrity, Wallace Hatfield.

Hatfield is a builder who had converted the school into a radio studio and, several years before, was tried for the murder of his wife, Lucy. Not only was he acquitted, but the death dismissed as a tragic accident as the prosecution couldn't even prove it was murder. Lucy had fallen from the belfry, "seventy or eighty feet," scattered round the body were flowers with Hatfield being the only person near the tower. What saved his neck is that the police found only Lucy's footprints in the dust up in the belfry. So nobody could have pushed her. Hatfield still believes she murdered and agrees to be interviewed, which initially was supposed to be conducted by an ex-Scotland Yard inspector. Program director, Sir John Burnside, insists on his old OC, Colonel Sir Henry Bryce, former head of the Indian Police. Sir John gushing over his old OC is another strain for the harassed producer culminating with Barran calling the old OC "son of a cock-eyed half-caste Indian constable" right when Colonel Sir Henry Bryce his entree. Just in time for history to repeat itself as an invisible killer throws another person from the belfry.

Medawar notes in the introduction "Carr clearly contributed to the mystery and Gielgud the authentic details of broadcasting" and "Thirteen to the Gallows" very clearly has Carr's fingerprints all over the plot and storytelling. From the comedy and clueing to the impossible crime reworked from his Suspense radio-play "The Man Without a Body" (1943). Only smudge is that the murderer is an absolute idiot, but other than that, as good and solid a mystery as its predecessor. A vintage Carr. A pity he never considered reworking "The Man Without a Body" and "Thirteen to the Gallows" into a Sir Henry Merrivale mystery. I gladly would have traded one of the final three Merrivale novels for The New Invisible Man.

The last two plays were solo projects, "a version for the stage of his famous BBC series Appointment with Death," beginning with the short play "Intruding Shadow" (1945), which is tightly-plotted little story of domestic murder – staged at the home of a well-known mystery writer. Richard Marlowe is the author of such celebrated detective novels as Death in the Summer-House, Murder at Whispering Lodge and The Nine Black Clues, but the story finds him dabbling in true crime of the fictitious kind. Marlowe wants to scare the pants of Bruce Renfield, a West End blackmailer, to make him back off from one of his victims and hand over the blackmail material. In order to achieve his goal, Marlowe is going to make both of them believe he's about to murder Renfield. After all, this is Golden Age mysteries in which a blackmailer is the type of person "who deserves to die" or "to be scared within an inch of his life." A plan that spectacularly backfires when Marlowe finds a dying Renfield on his doorstep shortly followed by Inspector Sowerby.

Apparently, "Intruding Shadow" was met with some reserved praise from the critics, but on paper, it's easily the best of the four plays Carr wrote during the war years. A short, pure undiluted detective story recalling that small gem "Who Killed Matthew Corbin?" (1939/40). Both stories are essentially Carr successfully pulling an Agatha Christie-style whodunit without any locked rooms or other impossible crimes. There is, however, a typical, Carrian Grand Guignol scene involving the corpse. So a great detective tale all around!

The fourth and last (short) play, "She Slept Lightly" (1945), belongs together with The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey (1936) and the previously mentioned radio-play, Speak of the Devil, to Carr's earliest experiments in mixing the detective story with historical fiction, which he kind of pioneered starting with plays and short stories – e.g. "The Other Hangman" (1935) and "Blind Man's Hood" (1937). After the 1940s, Carr began to write fully fledged historical mystery novels decades before the historical mystery became a subgenre of its own. Regrettably, Carr's historical (locked room) mysteries and thrillers either criminally underrated or outright ignored. A real shame as some of the Carr's best work from the 1950s and '60s can be found among his historical novels. Captain Cut-Throat (1955) is one of the best historical mystery-thrillers ever written and one of Carr's finest novels from the post-war period.

Just like Captain Cut-Throat, "She Slept Lightly" is a mystery-thriller set in Napoleonic France and brings several characters together in the home of Belgian miller while the Battle of Waterloo rages on in the background. Firstly, there's the elderly Lady Stanhope, "her enemies might call her a little mad," whose carriage overturned and needs the miller to guide her through the French lines. The second arrival is a wounded British soldier, Captain Thomas Thorpe, who's looking for the young girl in Lady Stanhope's company. She, however, denies the existence of the girl. Major von Steinau, a Prussian Hussar, is another one who's interested in this apparently non-existent woman and not without reason. He hanged her only a year ago for spying ("I saw the rope choke out your life"). So how could she be alive and walking around?

Like I said, this is more of a historical mystery-thriller than detective story with the apparent impossibility of a woman who was hanged and lived to tell about it as a small side-puzzle, but I can see why this historical melodrama is not going to excite everyone. I enjoyed it. However, I'm also very, very partial to the type of historical mystery as envisioned by Carr, Robert van Gulik and Paul Doherty. So feel free to disagree on this one.

So the quality of the plays, purely as detective and thriller stories, is uniformly excellent, but, more importantly, 13 to the Gallows plugged another fascinating, once completely forgotten gap in Carr's body of work – similar to the obscure radio-plays collected in The Island of Coffins (2021). That's the greatest contribution C&L had made in helping to restore Carr back to print. A highly recommendable, must-have volume for the true JDC aficionado and might pick up The Kindling Spark: Early Tales of Mystery, Horror and Adventure (2022) before tackling the Brittain and Hoch collections.

5/5/24

Teacher's 'Tec: Q.E.D. vol. 37-38 by Motohiro Katou

The first of two stories from Motohiro Katou's Q.E.D. vol. 37, "Murder Lecture," begins with Inspector Mizuhara asking Detective Sasazuka to attend a special lecture, "prepared specially for field officers," to make an extensive report – believing it will benefit their division. Fortunately, Sasazuka does not have to travel down to Izu Peninsula alone as Sou Touma is curious to hear what the FBI profiler has to say and Kana Mizuhara came along for the sea, food, hot springs and "other cool stuff." Just when they arrive, a typhoon is approaching and the weather is not going to be their only problem.

There's a small, select group of attendees comprising of three metropolitan police officers, Arita Seiji, Seto Kokichi and Shigaraki Yotaro, and someone from the prosecutor's office, Imari Yumi. Lastly, the FBI analyst and profiler, Meissen Kutani. So the story begins with these characters listening and discussing the subject material of Meissen Kutani's lecture, which is "all about the theory of probability" and the reason why profiling is only "a supporting tool" and "nothing more." Or using statistics to pinpoint areas prone to crime. Naturally, Touma launches in a couple of mini-lectures touching on the Broken Window Theory, Birthday Paradox and the Law of Large Numbers. So you have all kind of detectives discussing crime solving and prevention techniques, which makes for an interesting read, but the lecture on very real-world crime gets interrupted by a very classically-styled murder when Seto Kokichi fatally stabbed in his room.

Nobody could have left the premise, nobody could have come in from the outside and the rapidly approaching typhoon is keeping the police away for a good twenty-four house – marooning them with a handful of suspects. All of them well versed in murder and how to properly investigate them. "Murder Lecture" proved itself to be an excellent detective story with the murder, not actually an impossible murder, turning on a cleverly contrived alibi. A trick as elegant and ultimately simplistic as the satisfying locked room-trick from "The Detective Novelist Murder Case" (vol. 33). This story also sets the stage, so to speak, for these two volumes in how they creatively utilize floorplans.

The second story, entitled "Anima," is plot-wise a relatively minor entry in the series. One of those character pieces with a small, but this time not unoriginal, puzzle with the solution meant to explain more about the characters involved than merely solving a tricky puzzle.

This time, Kana Mizuhara becomes involved with the woes of a small animation studio. She happened to find a folder containing keyframes, "a very important item in animation," which she returns to the animation studio to the great relief of the production assistant, Ebisawa Kouji. But the keyframes turn out to be copies of the original. And they discover the originals were water damaged. Presumably by a leakage from the kitchen directly above the production room. Why did the popular animation supervisor, Yukimiya Yuko, suddenly leave? Sou Touma gets roped in to sort it all out. So, despite its overall simplicity, the story has several interesting features. Firstly, its use of architecture and a floorplan of the animation studio, "an apartment with its walls knocked down," to find the origin of the water leakage. Yes, a very minor, insignificant puzzle for a detective story, but of integral importance in explaining the actions of Yuko. Secondly, the behind-the-scenes look at an animation studio with a somewhat dark undertone as the people who work their make long days and barely any money, especially a small studio. And that can take its toll on people. So the ending can be a bit of downer, but a really good and solid story.

The first of two stories from vol. 38, "Empty Dream," concerns the son of the wealthy Shimamoto Family, Shigehiko, who continued to finance the disastrous movie projects of his two old school friends, Kuse Yumeji and Tamotsu Enno.

Kuse Yumeji is the hopelessly optimistic, financially irresponsible movie producer who never wavers from his believe he has the next big hit on his hands ("if this fails, I'll commit seppuku") or that their lucky break is just around the corner. Tamotsu Enno is the author who provides him with a never-ending supply of scripts. Their first movie, The Metaphor Murder Case, was also their first, but not last, flop ("...they weren't the runaway hits that we expected, but for, it's like an underground volcano ready to erupt"). Shigehiko kept giving them money, until his family cut him off and threw him out of the house. Sou Touma and Kana Mizuhara become involved with them when trying to find a copy of the now obscure The Metaphor Murder Case. Shigehiko takes them along to the house party the producer is throwing to get them a copy of the movie, but, as to be expected, Kuse Yumeji is murdered in his private cinema.

What's unexpected, however, is the way in which the murder is presented and committed, which I'm not going to describe here as it would spoil the effect, but wonderfully imaginative and cleverly executed – which again makes great use of the setting to create a superb alibi-trick. Even allowing for a false-solution as Touma begins to eliminate all the suspects, one by one, before explaining who of the people he just eliminated stabbed the producer. And how it was done. Simply a good detective story with a great idea for an alibi-trick executed with skill. I'm more than satisfied with this one!

The last story from this volume, "17," is one of those odd, impossible to pigeonhole that apparently exist only in this series. The story begins with a short prologue set at the beginning of the 18th century, Edo period, as an elderly man and a young girl oversee the construction of a shrine. They remark that "the one who will be able to solve the mystery of this small shrine, will definitely appear someday" and transcend "the flow of time." Back to the present-day, Kana Mizuhara has bullied Sou Touma into taking a part time job at the shrine to help out the hospitalized priest. The neglected neighborhood around the shrine is experiencing a resurgence in tourism due to a popular historical TV drama. So they want to built a museum to stimulate the renowned interest from the public in the region and local economy, but, in order to do so, the small, neglected and centuries old shrine has to be leveled. And with it with go any chance to decode the mystery the young girl, Aisa tried to leave to the world. Sou Touma takes a crack at the puzzle, but it should be noted Aisa was a 14-year-old math genius.

This story throws together history, math puzzles and the history of math and math puzzles to create one of those human-puzzles. The story is not so much about the cracking the code of the old shrine as trying to understand what, exactly, Aisa tried to tell them from across the centuries with the shrine acting as her telephone. It's a strange kind of archaeology, similar to MORI Hiroshi's short story "Sekitō no yane kazan" ("The Rooftop Ornaments of Stone Ratha," 1999), but it worked.

So, all in all, I think it's fair to say there's a nice balance to these two volumes both starting out with a traditionally-styled detective stories sporting two original alibi-tricks, before experimenting a little with their second stories. They all have something to recommend for various different reasons, but gave me practically nothing to nitpick about. Great job, Katou!

Hold on a minute!: I've a burning question for those more knowledgeable on everything Katou. I'm steadily approaching the crossover event between Q.E.D. vol. 41 and C.M.B. vol. 19, but in which order do I need to read them?